Return of the Native

Posted by sepoy on October 18, 2005 · 4 mins read

George Will quotes from George Packer's The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq:

The defense secretary looked upon anarchy and saw the early stages of democracy. In his view and that of others in the administration, but above all the president, freedom was the absence of constraint. Freedom existed in divinely endowed human nature, not in man-made institutions and laws. Remove a thirty-five-year-old tyranny and democracy will grow in its place, because people everywhere want to be free. There was no contingency for psychological demolition. What had been left out of the planning were the Iraqis themselves.

I think George Will misses the fact that making the case for a "divinely endowed human nature" were the native informants which the Administration and the media sought out to try and "understand" Iraq. They can't all be evil or our enemies because look at these folks - Chalabi and Makiya being the two at the top of the heap. It is the same impulse that made Bernard Lewis the scholar-combatant. He knows Muslims, you hear. It may seem crude, this personification of a nation, but it is after all the way reality is spun nowadays. Along with a theme and a graphic. The truth remains that these informants [native and others] don't give a damn about freedom.

I have been meaning to read the book since I read Kamiya's review of Packer's book in Salon. The review pointed out that Packer was one of the few reporters who had talked to all parties involved -both inside DC and inside Iraq. You should read his election dispatch from Basra to get a sense of his writing [Though history of Islam comes in for its usual flogging - why can't any reporter open a history book? see, for example, his retelling of Ghadr al-Khumm]. The spin on Packer is that this was a pro-war liberal who wised up when he saw the execution of the plans. Michael Hirsh in Washington Monthly titled his review, Confessions of a Humvee Liberal. Hirsh's review is much more harsh in pinning Packer and his views on the necessity and logic of the war.

I don't have much hope that the intellectual elite who led the path to war - both liberal and conservative - will own up to their dreamy eyed mis-direction. I am still quite intrigued, though, by the romance of the "native" amongst both policy and media elite. Whether it is Kanan Makiya, Ahmad Chalabi, or Mohsen Sazegara, the spectre of the native-informant haunts all machinations and provides much tortured prose [do see Judith Miller on Chalabi]. When Packer writes that Iraqis were left out of the planning, the Administration will counter that it is absolutely wrong. Iraqis were a pivotal part of planning - Chalabi and Makiya and other " native representatives". The recent 60 minutes report on Chalabi shows not only that his fall from grace is over but that he is back brokering power between the US and the Shi'a elite [Hello, Iran]. One segment showed him carrying his picture in a broken frame around to meetings with tribal leaders - using the raid as a measure of his persecution by the US. You know, to build credibility.

So, what gives? What is the allure of the "dissident", the "insider", the "rebel" who comes to Washington's doorstep with a tale of woe and terror and promises that once the regime is gone, the people will welcome you with roses and sugar-cubes? Seduction of the Orient? Do we have other examples of this from other venues in history or is this a particularly American foible?

In any case, go read Packer at TPM Club and follow the discussion of the book. Also see, raphael's response.


Quizman | October 20, 2005

Off-Topic. You may be interested in the books in the Digital Library of India at The ones in English have it in txt format. Check out the works on history under "English". A gold-mine for you. :-P

Quizman | October 20, 2005

Especially this one Mausum Ba Najo, Wajeed Ali Shah, Year of Publication, 1869

sepoy | October 20, 2005

O quizman, who paid you for distracting me with this treasure trove? Actually, many thanks!

IQRA Barbary Wars | November 28, 2005

[...] Barbary Wars And speaking of exiles, Sepoy at Chapati Mystery has a review of Packer’s book along with the question: [...]